Preventing Dropouts Among Minority Middle School Students
The dropout rate of minority middle school students is rising. This can be contributed to a number of factors that cultivate frustration and develop low self-esteem among minority adolescent students. Middle school students already struggle with self-image issues, but when the added pressure of factors such as low literacy skills, poverty within the home, early pregnancy and low regard for education are also introduced, these students become lost in the system and develop the desire to give up or dropout thus eliminating their opportunity to break the cycle of poverty by becoming educated and obtaining higher level paying employment.
Statement of Significance
The educational sector is under pressure to meet the new federally mandated guidelines of the "No Child Left Behind" legislation. Early childhood education has previously been the focus of the national goal that every child will read by the time they complete third grade. Federal and local funding has been poured into primary grade programs and technology in order to meet this national goal. However, very little has been done to face the major problem of addressing the educational needs of minority middle school students to work at keeping them enrolled in school and not dropping out. This issue is important to address since over three million minority students in our nation's middle schools are in serious danger of being "left behind" (Alliance for Excellence Education, 2002). These young people live throughout the country and are the products of all income levels.
Over 15% of African-American adolescents, and 35% of Hispanic adolescents account for the number of middle school minority students who drop out of school (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1995). Most of the students who eventually drop out of middle school can be identified ahead of time. Teachers need additional training that will allow them to recognize the at-risk behavior exhibited by dropouts. Teachers should also be trained to focus on students who are failing academically or have low self-esteem tendencies. These students consist of the lowest 25% of achievement are 3.5 times more likely to drop out than students in the next highest quarter of academic achievement, and twenty times more likely to drop out than top-performing students (Carnevale, 2001). Many of the at-risk minority middle school students are unable to read at the end of third grade and their struggles with literacy continue into the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.
Reading problems affect all subjects, thus struggling students earn no achievement and eventually give up all hope and drop out. Most of the students who are at-risk of dropping out because of reading problems can be identified ahead of time and should receive proper educational assistance. While thousands of high school students can barely read upon high school graduation, the problem begins much earlier in middle school. Less than 75% of all eighth graders graduate from high school in five years, and in urban schools the graduation rates dip below 50% (Green, 2002).
Students pay extreme prices when they choose to drop out of school. The consequences are both costly to the individual and society. Dropouts have fewer options for employment and are usually employed in low-skilled, low-paying positions thus remaining in a cycle of poverty and low self-esteem. These adolescents usually become teenage parents and can offer no better situation for their own children, thus the cycle continues. Other concerns exist for dropouts such as health problems, they are more likely to engage in criminal activities that are often gang related, and become dependent on welfare and other government programs (Martin, Tobin, & Sugai, 2002).
Research has historically shown that the students in the lowest quartile account for about two-thirds of all dropouts (Green, 2002).
Historically, minority students have been exposed to a literature-based curriculum that does not include their cultures and backgrounds. The stereotypical stories that minority students were required to read either did not interest them, had no real connection for them, or presented an ideal world in their not so perfect reality. By continuously being exposed to this type of information, middle school minority students have developed a wall of low self-esteem that contributes to their desire to drop out of school. Only within the last few years has education and publishing included stories such as "A Letter to Amy" by Ezra Jack Keats and other minority culture-based stories within basal readers.
In order to successfully support one's self or a family, all students need to realize the importance of remaining in school and eventually graduating from high school. Educators should work to find ways that encourage middle school students to remain in school. Most occupations within today's workforce demand strong cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills. Employees must cope with innumerable technologies and have the ability to make on-the-spot decisions that would have confused previous generations.
As a result, it is all the more imperative that all students remain in school and attain at least a high school diploma.
Review of Literature
For the purpose of this review, literature was selected based upon the following criteria:
Professional journals and sociology abstracts were utilized.
Key words were used to identify relevant articles to include dropout, early school leavers, alternative education, school-to-work.
Literature selected for the review met the following criteria: (a) published after 1993, (b) provided an empirical description, program evaluation, or research related to dropout prevention, and - identified features of school-based interventions.
A wide range of strategies were located, including interventions for all students in a school or class, however, selected interventions targeted minority middle school students considered at-risk on the basis of various background factors, and selected interventions for individuals clearly in danger of leaving school early were included within the research.
With the "No Child Left Behind" Act, state education departments are revising and implementing a more strenuous standardized testing system. Students are being held accountable for mastery at more grade levels and in additional subject areas such as science and social studies whereas in the past, core subjects were the basis for mastery. Although the goal is to improve students' skills, an unintentional outcome of the shift in policy may be an increase in the dropout rate, especially for students with learning disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Teachers may feel pressured to increase the amount of material covered at the expense of instructional activities that might benefit learners at risk for school failure (Benz, Lindstrom, & Yovanoff, 2000).
The article, Using a Psychoeducational Approach to Increase the Self-esteem of Adolescents at High Risk for Dropping Out (Wells, D., Miller, M., Tobacyk, J. & Clanton, R., 2002). addresses the issue of feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem in adolescents. The authors state "many adolescents, by the time they do drop out, have lost all confidence in their ability to succeed in school and have developed feelings of inferiority." Their research addresses the issue of feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem in adolescents. Specifically, it describes the changes in self-esteem of high-risk students who participated in an eight-week residential program designed to reduce dropout rates. Specifically, it describes the changes in self-esteem of high-risk students who participated in an eight-week residential program designed to reduce dropout rates.
Eighty economically disadvantaged adolescents who were at high risk for dropping out were identified and invited by their school counselors to participate in an eight-week summer program. They ranged from fourteen to sixteen years of age. There were thirty-two females and forty-eight males who participated in the program.
The program was designed to target curriculum weaknesses and include vocational instruction. Students were housed on a university campus for the length of the program including weekends. Five days a week, participants received four hours of academic instruction by master's level school teachers and four hours of vocational instruction. In the evening, they received one to four hours of individual and/or group counseling by psychology graduate students. The participants' self-esteem was measure using The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory-School Form (Coopersmith, 1986). This assessment consists of five subscales: General Self; Social Self-Peers, Home-Parents, School-Academic, and Total Self and includes 58-items. A pretest was administered to participants upon entry into the program, and a posttest administration was completed eight weeks later at the end of the program.
The study showed significant differences were found between pretest and posttest self-esteem total scores. A follow-up study of participants' school retention rates was conducted over the two years directly after participation in the dropout prevention program. The first year after intervention yielded a dropout rate of zero. After the second year, the dropout rate of participants was 6%. Compared to the control group of similar individuals not receiving intervention, the dropout rate was 21.2% for the same time period.
The Psychoeducational Theory was the foundation underlying the program and involved removing adolescents from their current home environments. Therapists and educators then had the opportunity of presenting and discussion educational alternatives to dropping out of school. In addition to increasing academic abilities and providing prevocational training, the program offered participants the opportunity to…